I have to admit that I had a bit of a crisis when I reached the Shetland Islands. Until then, all of my travels had taken me further north, and there was a part of me that wanted to stay in Shetland and travel to the northern most edge.
Plus, I met Arthur Pottinger on the passage up from Kirkwall. Arthur is a proud Shetlander who was traveling back to Lerwick with his brother for the Up Helly Aa, a massive fire festival.
He told me that it all started with Thomas Fraser, who was a talented singer and fiddler from the Shetland Islands. Arthur and his brother and a lot of other young men from Shetland were inspired by Fraser and also found that they loved country music.
Arthur is a proud Shetlander. I told him that I had noted that sense of separateness in the Orkney Islands–the idea that they weren’t exactly Scottish.
“That’s true. But Orkney adopted more of the Scottish traditions. They had lairds and what not. The Shetlanders were separated by another 90 miles of ocean.”
When I told him that my plans were to visit Shetland for the day, he laughed.
“Ah, you cannot do it. You must stay for the fire festival. There’s going to be so much great music.”
So, when I got off the boat that morning, I was really weighing my options. Should I stay in the Shetland Islands for 5 more days or should I get my fill in one day and catch the boat (the next one would not be leaving until Wednesday)?
I left my stuff at the marina and headed for the nearest hostel to check on lodging. There I met two men. The first was Dale, a local man who worked at the hostel and the community center next door. I asked him to describe what would happen during Up Helly Aa.
Dale said that there would be all of these men dressed as Vikings led by a Jarl. They would all be carrying torches. They would march down to the water where they would retrieve a galley that they had built. They would carry it to King George’s Field (a modern day playground) and would surround, cheer, and then burn it. That would launch a party that would occur all over Lerwick and would last all night long. If you want to see a little of it, check out the link to Up Helly Aa.
The second man that I met was Tommy Traagstad, a Norwegian who was planning on attending the fire festival and had come over the same boat as I did. Tommy and I struck up a conversation, and he offered to buy me a cup of coffee at the community center.
It was interesting to hear a Norwegian comment on the nature of the people in Orkney and Shetland.
“They’re more Norwegian. You know how they became a part of Scotland, right?”
I had heard the story. The islands were offered as a dowry in 1472 by the Scandinavian king to Scotland to help insure the marriage of Princess Margaret and James III of Scotland. The king was supposed to make annual payments to reclaim ownership of the islands, but he fell behind.
Tommy laughed as we walked into the community center.
“You never see so much Viking stuff in Norway.”
Tommy was interested in my experience as a teacher and also in what I was doing with the blog. In some ways, we were working towards similar goals.
Tommy quit his job five years ago, sold all of his possessions, and moved to Australia where we traveled. He has been biking around Europe for some time, primarily in France, Ireland, and Scotland. He’s heading back to Norway.
“I decided somewhere along the way that I just wanted to help people.”
So, that’s what he has been doing as he travels. He offers to help people in whatever manner he can. I watched him do it with Dale.
Tommy’s inspired by the work of Terry Pratchett. I classified him as satirist, and Tommy quickly argued that I was wrong.
“He’s a humanist.”
When he gets back to Norway, he wants to develop a way to fund hostels in other countries that struggling. He mentioned Romania, specifically. He wants to provide work for the locals, an avenue for foreigners to come and experience another culture, and a way to offer community outreach.
Interestingly enough, I think that the Islesburgh House Hostel in Lerwick fits exactly what Tommy was describing.
When I asked Tommy where I should go, he said, “If I were to go anywhere in Europe, I would go to Ireland. Best place in the world.”
After meeting Dale and Tommy, I was even more on the fence about whether to stay or to go. I decided to wander around Lerwick, and soon ended up at the Shetland Museum & Archives. I checked out some of the displays and got a map. I asked about camping opportunities but discovered that all of the bothy like areas were closed during the winter.
I was considering try to make a day trip south and headed to the bus station. There I saw a bus for Scalloway. I check my map, saw that it wasn’t too far, and hopped aboard.
I was thrilled when I reached Scalloway because, as its sign says, it is the ancient capital of the Shetland Islands.
I walked around Scalloway a bit and decided that I was ready to eat. I found a beautiful little cafe right on the edge of the harbor. It’s called The Cornerstone, a cafe that is part of a bed and breakfast owned by a woman named Grace.
I opted for the cheese and tomato quiche, which was an excellent choice. It was cooked perfectly. The tomato lay just above the crust and beneath the egg and cheese mixture. The pastry was flaky and not soggy, and the center was firm but not overcooked. There was a nice browning to the top.
They served it with a mixed salad and coleslaw. The coleslaw was different from the kind that I’ve had in South Carolina. They added sour cream to it and gave it a soupier texture. It was still quite good.
Lisa, who works at The Cornerstone, asked me about the blog. I told her about what I was doing and why I was doing it. And then I asked her about Burra, which was south of Scalloway.
“I live out that way,” she said.
She told me she usually took the bus and offered to walk me to the stop. As we walked, she told me a little more about herself. She had just recently moved to the Shetlands and was originally from an area near Aberdeen. I asked her how she liked her new home.
“Shetlanders are just the friendliest people,” she said.
I waited for the bus to Burra, but only the bus from Lerwick arrived. I got a general sense of the direction and decided that I would just walk towards Burra and catch the bus when I saw it.
I never saw the bus, and I ended up walking over 4 miles. The wind was forceful and constant but not unbearably cold, and I’m glad I made the walk. I saw some beautiful countryside, which you can see in the video below.
By the time I reached Meal Beach, I was beginning to get a little tired and worried about getting back to Lerwick. I saw a car heading my way and asked the couple inside if they had seen the bus. They said they hadn’t, but they offered me a ride back to Lerwick.
That’s how I met John and Tiffany. John is a minister for an Assembly of God Church, and they were visiting from Prestwick, Scotland.
When I told John my name, he said, “Luther. That’s a good name for a minister.”
I laughed and said, “So is John.”
We shared a nice conversation on the way back to Lerwick. I told them about Stella and Katie and the blog. They told me about their two kids.
What they didn’t know, and I didn’t know at the time, was that they had really helped me leave on time. I had gotten the times for the boat’s departure mixed up. I thought it was leaving after 11 p.m. as it had from Kirkwall. I was wrong. It was leaving at 5:30.
So, I made my boat and left the Shetlands. It was only a day, but it was one rich with beautiful country, townships, and people.
Until my next post, keep looking to the heavens and seeking your own star.